Tennessee Titans first round draft pick and rookie wide receiver, Kenny Britt, has ruffled many feathers in the fan base in the great state of Tennessee; as referenced by the comments on this article. However, what really is the point of him holding out when he has yet to play a single down for the mighty Titans?
First and foremost, we need to understand that the NFL, unlike many of its counterparts in the professional sports world, guarantees little of its money to its players. Most NBA and MLB athletes have contracts inked for millions of dollars well into the years past their prime. An example of this is the infamous Alex Rodriguez, who is slotted to cash in on $27 million in the year of his 41st birthday; or how about Mr. Kevin Garnett, who will acquire a cool $21 million the year he will be 36. I congratulate and couldn't be happier for the both of them. However, this is not how the NFL operates.
There are more nuances to the NFL payment system than I care to cover, but here is a simple overview, so that common folk like me can understand the premise under which NFL contracts are written.
In the NFL, you have guaranteed money, or bonus money, which is what players will almost certainly be able to keep even if they are cut from the team. Most bonuses come in the form of signing bonuses which do not immediately count against the salary cap. After that comes the contractual salary money. This money is pseudo-guaranteed. When a player doesn't live up to his contractual potential because of age, injury, conduct, or some other way the NFL has devised to prevent them from collecting those beautiful paychecks they get 9 weeks out of the year; they are simply let go. Without delving into the depths of my contracts law class, this is about as technical as I would want to get in reference to these.
So now onto the big question: How does all of this affect why Kenny Britt, and other top draft picks, take their precious time to ink a contract and get into uniform? It's very simple, the NFL is a business and to be financially successful as a player you must treat your job just as if you are a business analyst or stock broker on Wall Street.
These players want to get paid big, and get paid early. NFL contracts are back end loaded so that if a player doesn't pan out, it doesn't consume their salary cap room. At the same time, the player wants to ensure that if the unthinkable happens (think Ryan Leaf), he will have enough income to guarantee his livelihood until he commences plan B; whatever plan B may be.
Now most of us sit back and think, "Doesn't this guy make millions?" Sure he does; but, he also has a career expectancy of about three and a half seasons. If the odds were that the rest of us are only going to have a career of about three and a half years, I expect that more of us would be more adamant about our financial compensation in relation to our first career job.
So to all of us fans, myself included, exercise patience and keep in mind that the NFL is a business first and entertainment second. Remember that when the stars align, Roger Goodell issues his next suspension, and Drew Rosenhaus signs his next meal ticket; we will see our stud draft picks running routes, lowering shoulders, and throwing TD’s and all will be copacetic in the world of NFL.